As I cleaned up our house sometime in February 2011, sorting through the ephemera that just accumulated over the years, I came across a small blue booklet with yellowing pages of handwritten notes, all of them dated sometime in post-war December 1945. It was an autograph book where my father’s graduating classmates at Arellano High School had, as tradition called for, written their sentimental messages and fondest wishes. Along with their personal details, it was the ingenuous and unembellished precursor to today’s curriculum vitae.
Autograph writing began as early as the 1500s, when students in Europe asked their fellow alumnae to inscribe dedications on blank pages appended to their personal bibles. The autograph book as we know it began to develop as a stand-alone journal called album amicorum (book of friends) in the mid-16th century, and retained its popularity as “remembrance” books over time.
What a pity that this has since become a lost art. In the 1960s, it metamorphosed into the “slam” book where teenagers posted harsh comments (hence, “slam”) about others, or scribbled near-meaningless babble about favourite bands, informal credentials and other frivolities. Graduates in the 1970s forsook even this, and just swapped yearbook photos with hastily composed and abbreviated wishes, and in the decades that followed, exchanging the written note became even less fashionable. In today’s cyber age, people simply create their real-time profiles and status by taking endless selfies with their mobile devices and posting them on Facebook with one self-uplifting comment after another.
So what a fascinating ride down memory lane it was to read through this archaic collection of memories – how the Arellano High School Class of 1945 used their fountain pens, and, with the flourish of their scripts, immortalized the times with noble words and kind thoughts that people in this generation – sadly – seem so scarcely able to sincerely write or utter.
In pages after pages where my father’s contemporaries wrote their “favourites,” the entries just hearkened to the halcyon days of old – near-ancient hobbies like philately, now uncommon flowers like the gladiola, oldfangled songs like “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and positively unhip ambitions like “To serve the world.” How many people do we know who would declare these choice picks:
Hobby – Listening, just
Flower – White champaca
Song – Sympathy
Ambition – To sing grand opera
Motto – My life, I love you
Sport – Rainbow-chasing
It’s almost surreal to read words like these, but Panalig R. Belmonte of 1400 Constancia St., one of my father’s classmates, memorialized them as his favourites.
And when was the last time we read poignant dedications like “We met as strangers; we depart as brothers” (from Aurelio Ramos, who would become our family dentist), or “For me, the joyful memories of our companionship will find no end” (from Andres Narvasa, who would rise to become Chief Justice) or “Hope you strive, seek, find and not yield” (from Abelardo Mendoza)
Remarkably, the last entry written in my father’s autograph book was written by “Aurora.” She was not a classmate, but clearly a woman he admired. She would finish a Philosophy degree at the University of Santo Tomas (where he would also take Law). Articulating her thoughts of him in that moment, she wrote:
When I first met you, I had you mentally pigeon-holed and summarized in one word, that you are not a ‘fatalist.’
I knew I was not wrong. I’m fully aware of the little things, the little thoughts you process that may seem
countless. Yet the essence that it may have, out of the littleness of it, may be great. And for this, I have it
perfectly tucked in a very convenient corner of my mind, where I can reach it and bring it out whenever I want to.
Aurora would become his wife in 1952, and my mother in 1954.